Partly overexcited, partly confused and partly terrified, I arrived in Serbia on August 22nd as
an exchange student from Belgium. I had chosen this country for the music programme that
I could follow here, and it was tempting for me to go to a place of which I hardly knew
anything. It’s sad that to the rest of the world Serbia is mainly known for the war of some
twenty years ago, and not for the things that make it one of the most beautiful countries in
the world: the openness, warmth and hospitality of the people, the green, mountainous
nature, the delicious food and the impossibility of leaving someone’s house as a guest with
an empty stomach and the people’s unconditional love for their country and its traditions.
For this school year I live in Subotica, in the very north of the country, close to Hungary. The
border between the two countries used to be further south, so the majority of the population
is Hungarian. My school, too, is mixed and every grade has both a Hungarian and a Serbian
class, so it feels as if I am on exchange both in Serbia and in Hungary: I can get also
acquainted with the Hungarian culture, people and a bit of the language.
In the past seven months I have truly fallen in love with this city, its colourful architecture,
the Town Hall and its concerts, the magical, fairy tale like winter, my fantastic family who
made me feel like I have lived here for years, my friends, my music school, the relaxed
mentality of the people…
Being an exchange student can sometimes be difficult; you are dropped in a family with
whom you don’t share the same memories, language, values and customs, and in a new
school in which you probably don’t know anyone and in which everyone speaks a language
(in my case two languages) you don’t understand. But it certainly is cool, for almost
everyone is thrilled to get to know you, help you if you need it, after five months learn how
actually to pronounce your name and let you try the sarma (traditional Serbian dish) made
by their grandmother or the rakija made by their grandfather, but it’s even greater when you
feel you are actually becoming part of the society, by learning the language, adjusting to the
culture and lifestyle of Serbia and just hanging out with Serbian new friends. I was so
sincerely happy when I understood a joke made in class for the first time. Some people I
have met here, both Serbians, Hungarians and other exchange students, now mean so much
to me I can’t imagine how I will ever be able to say goodbye to them.
Many people in Serbia don’t have that much, but they are happy with what they have, and
they don’t mind working hard every day if they know that their family will be there when
they come home, healthy and happy. And even though they don’t have that much, they
share mostly everything with family, friends and guests.
For me it was great to have the choice of going on a music programme, which means, going
to a high school for music. There I play the violin, which I wish to study in conservatory next
year, for which I can prepare here. Most Serbian music schools pay a lot of attention to
tradition. In my school, for example, there is a group for old, traditional Serbian and
Hungarian singing, an orchestra for the instrumental group of the tamburica and a few
subjects in which we learn about traditional ways of making music. I couldn’t wait to try all
those things, of course. Being in this school specialised in music, I can try out different, new
genres and learn a lot of new things to improve my playing from people with a completely
different background.
Serbia is not that big a country but the funny thing is that regions can be extremely different
from each other. Whereas the northern part, Vojvodina, is rather calm, laidback and slow,
the south is in generally loud and full of temperament, just as the fast-going central part of
the country. That’s why traveling throughout Serbia makes me feel like visiting different
By seeing so many new places, trying out things and getting to know so different people,
you learn the most valuable lessons about the world, about other people, about yourself,
and therefore going on exchange is the best decision I have ever made, although it will hurt
to leave all this behind me when this year is finished. I will certainly come back. Belgium is
not that far away. My best advice for people considering going on exchange would be to go
for it. Just say yes to things, take every opportunity you are given and you will have the best
year of your life.